Destination Wednesday: 5 Under-The-Radar Spring Break Destinations


On the beach at Protestant Cay. (Sharyn Alden photo.)
Can’t afford the Caymans? St. Croix is a more reasonable alternative. (Sharyn Alden photo.)

By Natalie Rivera

Avoiding crowds doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t like people; you just might not enjoy particular crowds – especially the enormous crowds that mark their territory during Spring Break. The thousands of faces that swarm the most visited Spring Break destinations blur after awhile, making you think, “Didn’t I see you last year, but with different flip-flops?”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with following the crowd to this year’s “official” Spring Break venue, but trying something new never hurt anyone. So whether you’ve allowed yourself just a shiny penny to spend this year, or you want to try something that doesn’t leave you jet-lagged and broke, these Spring Break recommendations could provide all the change you need.

1. Avoid California’s most popular (and populated) beaches, and visit Pacific Grove!

Touristy California beaches like Venice and the Santa Monica Pier have it all – including too many people and vendors. Though outdoor capitalism is fine, the incessant shilling makes Venice and Santa Monica more like outdoor malls than beautiful beachfronts. This is where beach towns like Pacific Grove shine. With the same sunny allure and half the people, Pacific Grove is a “next-best” beach location that makes Malibu & Co. seem overdone.

Blessed with clean sand and cleaner waves, this seaside beauty is homey and intimate, with just the right amount of visitors and funky local businesses. Situated within the coastal city of Monterey Bay, Pacific Grove features beautiful Victorian architecture and movie-set sights like the Point Pinos Lighthouse, the West Coast’s oldest operating lighthouse. There’s also the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Pebble Beach, with its rock formations and collection of, well, pebbles — so not South Padre Island. Pacific Grove is also close to Carmel-by-the-Sea, with even more beaches, funky shops and all the fresh ocean air you can stand.

1a. Check out Glass Beach in Fort Bragg

Looking for a unique California beach? Glass Beach in Fort Bragg has the most sea glass of any West Coast beach. (Sea glass being glass that has washed up from the sea.) Collect as much as you want; just walk carefully and wear sturdy-soled shoes.

2. Miami may have the bikinis, but Seaside, Fla., has the cottages

Miami’s the spot for great rides, great bods and great routine. You’ve got the nightclubs for after-hours fun, mimosas for hangover recovery and the beaches for sun-tanning, prepping you for another round of nightclubs and mimosas.

Miami is intoxicating on so many levels, but for anyone looking to break away, there’s Seaside, Fla., home to a delightful selection of rental cottages.

Seaside is the perfect getaway for the spring-breaker who’d rather not spend a week reliving the movie Spring Breakers. Renowned for its boutique shopping, Seaside is probably best known as the locale where The Truman Show was filmed, only the town’s beauty isn’t staged; it’s real, and about as far from Miami and Malibu as you can get. Almost every beach in Seaside is tastefully named, including WaterColor Beach and WaterSound Beach; the smooth waves pounding those beaches will tempt you to give that old surfboard another try.

Rentals run the gamut from basic-and-fairly-cheap to fancy-and-ridiculous, but in general, figure on spending in the low four figures for a week of cottage life, making it a must to find three or four like-minded fellow travelers. Fortunately, rental agencies like the aptly named Cottage Rental Agency make booking easy.

2a. Also check out Seaside’s neighbor, Destin

Less than an hour from Seaside, Destin has a swampy feel that contrasts with Seaside’s clean-cut vibe. The boardwalk in Destin is always lively, and the fine eats you find along it, such as Beach Walk Café, make the side trip worthwhile.

3. Instead of hot Coachella, stay weird and fresh in Austin

The Coachella Music and Arts Festival is the No. 1 Spring Break destination for alternative types, but if Coachella’s high cost and sticky desert weather turn you off, there’s always Austin. The Texas capital has earned its reputation as an island of weirdness in a conservative state. And when spring rolls around and all the alt-20-somethings flee for the desert, Austin keeps on keepin’ on with its unique blend of culture, strangeness, and barbecue.

You’ll never run out of things to do in Austin, even if you just spend your time hanging around Austin’s lakes and Barton Springs Pool. The Austin music scene is always on, giving your visit the right balance of relaxation and soundtrack, without the hipster nonsense and showerless desert days.

3a. And be sure to check out the Cathedral of Junk

This famous Austin landmark is about 10 miles from downtown, but is definitely worth the ride. The Cathedral of Junk is just that – a junkpile designed to look like a cathedral. It’s a shrine of clutter and strangeness, an everlasting ode to Austin’s creative flow.

4. Trade Hawaii for Grand Cayman

If you’re a beach buff, and domestic beach towns don’t feed your exotic appetite, Grand Cayman might be for you. Hardly do you ever hear anyone not packing snorkel gear say, “Yeah, I just booked my flight to Grand Cayman”? Voila. You might just have found yourself your own secret island.

Grand Cayman is the largest of the Cayman Islands, and is home to Seven Mile Beach, one of the Caribbean’s longest coastlines. Cayman has the bright blue water, endless white sand, wildlife, and rare plants you’re used to seeing in a brochure. While everyone else plays it safe in Hawaii, you’ll seem like the explorer type when recounting your adventures on Grand Cayman – even if they’re basically the same adventures. Figure about $500-$750 for your flight; renting a condo is your best lodging option. The rest? Once you get there, you’ll figure it out.

4a. Also check out Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, if you can

The Grand Cayman’s sibling islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, are worth a look-see. Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are 75 and 90 miles respectively from Grand Cayman, and Cayman Airways flies to the islands three times a day for around $150 round-trip. If you’re there and have the time and are feeling adventurous, why not?

5. Cancun is nice, but …

Puerto Vallarta and Cancun are the poster children of spring break south of the border, and while they sound irresistible, these Mexican tourist spots aren’t all Latin America has to offer. Costa Rica and Peru are great alternatives that offer history, beaches and great eats. Machu Picchu is a bucket-list historical site, and the crowds are almost nil in the spring, when everyone’s drinking Coronas in Cancun.

Also rich in fine Caribbean coastlines and delicious eatery, Costa Rica won’t be as buzzy as Mexico, but it delivers as much sun, sand, and cerveza as its neighbors. It’s an often-overlooked country with a fascinating culture and glorious scenery that can go from mountains to rainforest to beach in a matter of miles.

5a. Also check out Cartagena, Columbia while you’re at it

If Costa Rica isn’t exotic enough, try Cartagena, Columbia, and soak up the city’s Spanish architecture and history. A perennial favorite of travel writers and other worldly types, Cartagena is great if you who don’t want to spend your entire vacation and your whole budget getting to a romantic destination. For $700, COPA can get you from Miami to Cartagena, and back again. For the experience, that’s a great bargain.

Natalie Rivera is a freelance writer who encourages you to follow her @byNatalieRivera.


Editor’s Note: Wherever you wind up going, Spring Break is definitely a #RiskWorthTaking. Protect all your Risks Worth Taking with travel insurance from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Get it right here.